Some Thoughts On Health Monitoring Devices

About a week ago, there was a good discussion on Fred Wilson’s blog regarding news from Apple that the next iPhone will be largely focused on health & wellness. The thinking is that, with Apple focused on this problem, our phones will become the central device for tracking movement, sleep and other physiological measures – as opposed to the wrist bands and watches that have been dominating the space (hold on to your Fitbits, they could soon be a collector's item). The discussion on Fred's blog got me thinking about this trend and how it's going to impact health, wellness and healthcare. A few thoughts:

  1. To date, most of the popular devices are focused on prevention and self-management of wellness -- e.g. staying in shape. This is obviously a great thing, but to really make an impact, these devices are going to have to 1.) easily provide healthcare providers with digestible data and 2.) provide them with data that they actually can act on. From what I’m hearing, most of the data being captured on these devices isn’t terribly helpful to providers, and it’s definitely not actionable. There's lots of data being captured, but a provider wouldn't actually know what do with it (other than to cheer you on).
  2. A few providers have told me that, in the future, the most effective self-measuring device may actually live in our toilets. There's a huge amount of data that could be captured there (signs of digestive diseases, cancer screens, infections, low nutrient absorption, protein levels, etc.). This kind of data passes the 'actionable' test, but it's unclear how this data will get to your provider.
  3. There's no easy way to transmit data from your home to your provider’s office. There are big HIPPA concerns around moving data from a home to a doctor's office. And even if it gets to the provider, it has nowhere to go. The big EMR vendors-- the software makers whose products providers use to manage their patients' health -- haven't opened up to accept this kind of data, much less put it in a format that's digestible and actionable.
  4. Finally, once actionable data gets to your provider in a digestible format, we have to ensure that there are payment models that incentivize providers to actually do something with it. For the most part, this doesn't exist yet. More and more payers are offering outcome-based plans but it's unclear how self-monitoring devices will fit into that model. And payers will have to agree to reimburse for this kind of health monitoring.

There are obviously lots of challenges in getting the quantified-self movement to impact healthcare in a productive way. But the news that Apple is going to make an aggressive move into this space should give us lots of hope that some solutions are on the horizon.